WASHINGTON — Newly elected Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar suggested on Sunday that Jewish money was behind American elected officials’ support for Israel, sparking widespread condemnation and fresh allegations of anti-Semitism.
Omar, one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress, was responding on Twitter to Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCathy’s vow to “take action” against her and Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib, both of whom support the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.
“It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” Omar tweeted, reacting to another tweet from the prominent journalist Glenn Greenwald, who said it was “stunning how much time US political leaders spend defending a foreign nation even if it means attacking free speech rights of Americans,” referring to McCarthy’s pledge.
Benjamins are a slang term for $100 bills, which feature US founding father Benjamin Franklin.
When one journalist followed up by saying she wondered who Omar thought was paying American politicians to be pro-Israel, Omar responded: “AIPAC!,” referring to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
It's all about the Benjamins baby ???? https://t.co/KatcXJnZLV
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) February 10, 2019
While the pro-Israel lobby wields considerable influence in Washington, it does not contribute to campaigns, nor does it make endorsements.
Omar, a Somali-born refugee from Ethiopia, was recently appointed to the powerful House Foreign Affairs Committee. In recent weeks, Omar and others have been vociferous critics of two anti-BDS bills that are being pushed in Congress.
The Israel Anti-Boycott Act, which would criminalize participation in boycotting Israel, and the Combating BDS Act, which would grant federal protections to states that implement anti-BDS laws, recently passed the Senate as part of a larger legislative package. The measures, however, are likely dead on arrival in the House, which is now controlled by Democrats.
The anti-BDS bills are also intensely opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the liberal Mideast advocacy group J Street, and other progressive organizations over concerns that they would violate Americans’ First Amendment rights of free speech by wielding the power of the state to suppress an unpopular political movement.
That position is largely mainstream on the American left. Only one Senate Democrat (Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar) who is running — or considering a run — for the White House voted in favor of the motion last week, from among a field that includes Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, California Senator Kamala Harris, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, and Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown.
All of those senators unequivocally oppose the BDS movement, and have castigated it as misguided at best and malevolent at worst, but have said these pieces of legislation would do more harm than good.
Co-signed as an American. We should expect all elected officials, regardless of party, and all public figures to not traffic in anti-Semitism.
— Chelsea Clinton (@ChelseaClinton) February 11, 2019
However, the measure does have the support of several mainstream Jewish groups, including AIPAC, and its supporters counter that, if passed and implemented, the law would prohibit discrimination on the basis of national origin — in this case, directed at Israeli companies and individuals.
AIPAC strenuously rejected Omar’s accusations.
“We are proud that we are engaged in the democratic process to strengthen the US-Israel relationship,” it said in a statement. “Our bipartisan efforts are reflective of American values and interests. We will not be deterred in any way by ill-informed and illegitimate attacks on this important work.”
Members of the American Jewish community, including from the left, criticized Omar’s comments Sunday as blatantly anti-Semitic.
The American Jewish Committee slammed her remarks and called on her to apologize.
“Suggesting that a Jewish organization is buying off American politicians is both demonstrably false and stunningly anti-Semitic. American politicians are pro-Israel because Americans are,” AJC said in a tweet.
Stunning that @IlhanMN is spending her first few weeks as a Congresswoman spreading anti-Semitic tropes about moneyed Jews buying off elected officials, particularly after what was clearly a bullshit walkback of the “hypnotized the world” tweet. 1/2
— (((Michael Koplow))) (@mkoplow) February 11, 2019
Michael Koplow, policy director for the Israel Policy Forum, which backs a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, tweeted that it was “stunning that
@IlhanMN is spending her first few weeks as a Congresswoman spreading anti-Semitic tropes about moneyed Jews buying off elected officials, particularly after what was clearly a bullshit walk back of the ‘hypnotized the world’ tweet.”
Omar once tweeted during the 2014 war in Gaza that Israel had “hypnotized the world,” although she recently apologized.
“Supporters of Israel have every right to participate in politics and have their voices heard, and Israel is one of the US’s most valuable allies on the globe, making it worthy of support irrespective of anything else,” Koplow continued. “What
@IlhanMN is doing is shameful bigoted hate mongering.”
In a bizarre twist, Omar later retweeted a criticism of her that said “she might as well call us hook-nosed.”
— Jerry Dunleavy (@JerryDunleavy) February 11, 2019